The Effect of Pre-Recording on Comedy in the 1960s

In spite of their inferior quality, kinescopes bring alive for us a lost, never to be repeated, era in television.  Eventually, almost all prime time network shows were recorded on film or on the new marvel, videotape.  This pre-recording seemed to have a profound and largely negative effect on comedy.  Hal Kanter commented in 1965:

“'It's impossible to get the excitement of live television on film.  The chance of error is gone, for one thing.  And a performer responds to the laughter of a live audience.....'

"Recalling fondly the tenseness of 'live' TV, Hal says, 'You rehearsed, but once that light went on in the camera nobody except the man on stage and the man in the control booth could change anything.

"'But film can be changed afterward.  There are agency men, network men, editors and even the performer... can fuss with it and make second-guesses.' …"   [Humphrey, Hal. LA Times, Feb. 16, 1965]

Sid Caesar agreed:  “'... When you put a show on tape you lose the spontaneity. When you do it live, you know you can only do it once. Your whole body comes up with adrenaline because this is the performance, this is it.  [With videotape, it's]  'Want to take it again...?' And after the fourth or fifth take you lose it.'"  [ Ed McMahon and David Fisher, When Television was Young: The Inside Story with Memories by Legends of the Small Screen]

Further testimony comes from Sid Caesar's co-star, Carl Reiner:  “‘Film and tape were the inventions that took the performer out of jeopardy.... You really can’t blame any of us for wanting the security that they provided, although,’ he adds, somewhat wistfully, ‘those early live days had a vitality that’s completely gone now. I mean, if you were out there in front of the audience and you goofed, or something misfired, well, you just stood there and improvised, and sometimes what emerged was funnier than anything you could have thought of in a month of rehearsals.’”  [Max Wilk, The Golden Age of Television]

Looking back, in 1984, George Gobel also recalled TV's live aspect with fondness:  “The fact it was live was exciting.  When it was live, there were things that could get you into trouble....  If a camera went out, you didn’t stop and say, 'We'll do it again.'  …. You got out the way you got in.